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Pilgrim Cafe

Continuing Conversations on the Human Spirit

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Behind the Wheel

Admiring the Shepherd

“The four o’clock school jam,” I think, gazing at the caravan of cars inching ahead of me. It is mid-afternoon. The elementary schools, along my route were now releasing students to scramble homeward. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nannies, friends and neighbors all arrived to provide definition to what, otherwise, would be a chaotic ritual release of pent up energy awaiting the final bell of the day.

The release, slows traffic below the posted 20 mph and fills the narrow roadway with little bodies darting this way and that. A well posted intersection with yellow dedicated crosswalks and signs on four corners offers official protection for students, crossing the roadway, to northern neighborhoods.

Approached from east or west, the three block gauntlet appears like a branding chute to drivers who must each slow to a creep and await their turn to navagate. Potholes and collapsing shoulders test the agility of driver and vehicle. Pedestrians, traveling single file on both sides of the walkless roadway, daily scurry perilously sharing personal space with bicycles, adult tricycles, scate boards, scooters, and wheelchairs. It is a personal challenge fourteen times an afternoon, and I cannot avoid it.

Today, I recognize an old Mexican woman laboriously preparing to cross the roadway. She is twenty feet from the crosswalk awaiting an avantageous opening is the caravan of impatient drivers. Her flock of grandchildren have already begun jaywalking ahead of her. “Why doesn’t she gather them to her and use the cross walk,” I mumble as I slow down to give them plenty of room to clear the roadway. Her little ones dart between oncoming vehicles sending shivers up my spine.

This is not our first meeting. I have watched and grumbled about her display of oblivious caretaking for months. I flashback to navigating a sixty-eight passenger school bus around the streets of Monterrey, Mexico in the early seventies. Mexican streets, then, were loosely organized mayhem according to most Norte Americanos. No cross walks, or traffic lights. Intersections operated on a first-to-honk principle. Drivers weaved on both sides of thoroughfares. Pedestrians navigated like crows choosing the straightest routes to their destinations. “This was most likely her experience of origin,” I think, “I should be more understanding.”

I feel embers of admiration beginning to reignite as I think of her being here every day after school to sheperd her flock. She moves awkwardly, with a walrus hobble, eye on their every move, ignoring her obvious painful locomotion. She is faithfully helping her children care for their’s. Parents are most likely attempting to hold down one or more jobs to make ends meet. She provided the same attention to her children when they were young and now that they have little ones of their own, she is again there for them. There is strength in her care giving hobble. Joints worn rough by years working at low end jobs cleaning rooms and making beds for unappreciative strangers who are totally unaware that the one providing them hospitality also cares for a family as did ancestors before her. She bears a tradition that continues generation after generation shaping her young as they, even now, scatter before her.

NOT A SACK OF POTATOES

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She was a large woman, of some apparent Slavic extraction. She mounted the stairs with authority toting a large infant under one arm like a ten pound sack of potatoes and a bag of food in the other attempting to keep it upright not to loose control of its contents. She was apparently with a man, still at the foot of the steps, fumbling with folding a large stroller to comply with bus regulations. “He got the passes,” she grumbled pointing with a nod toward the fumbler who appeared clueless regarding the schematics of the modern stroller. She passed to her seat, leaving him to his quandary. “Mornin” he mumbled as he finally boarded dragging the stroller that was defying instruction and trying to reopen like some giant grasshopper before he could get seated. He fumbled for their two passes with one hand, a feat given the employment of the other hand, then awkwardly navigated to a seat beside her.

The baby boy, quietly mesmerized by the scene, eyes wide, was dutifully playing the role of a sack of spuds by not bending or squirming as his mom toted him unceremoniously through the busy bus. It was a treatment he had learned to expect in the rough and tumble life of accompanying her on her daily street adventures. His was not a silver spoon coddling. He rubbed elbows with some fearful characters as he peered from the husky grip of a mother who was putting the pieces together for daily assistance and a father most likely on disability (no I didn’t ask, but the signs were all there).

LOST EYES

COLUMN SIZEApproaching the 28 Road stop on North Avenue, my sixth round of the afternoon, I caught notice in the dusk of two feet silhouetted beneath the shelter. Sensing a potential passenger I pulled in to pickup the person waiting. Slowing  as I was approaching the shelter, I caught sight of a young female sitting motionless in the shadows. Sight of the bus did not seem to interest her. Then came a slight wave of her hand motioning me on. I turned back to my route merging carefully with the slow moving traffic.

That was odd, I thought. A young woman alone on North at this hour of the evening. Most young persons travel in pairs or groups of friends when traveling late.” Wonder what’s her story?” I thought as I continued toward the downtown terminal. “Maybe she was waiting for someone to pick her up at that stop,” I thought, as I redirected my attention to the stops ahead.

Leaving downtown, I headed back up seventh street and turned east on North Avenue. Route nine was a bit busier ferrying early evening shift changers home to Clifton, and Palisade. All the shelter folk had been delivered two hours before, dinner served and its doors closed for the night.
The Walmart stop was vacant except for two stragglers just off work. No one at the Work Force Center, its last classes complete and staff parking lot vacant. I continued down North to the I-70 Business Loop. “Route 9 at the Business Loop needing Routes 3, 4, and 10 in Clifton,” I broadcast over the company channel.
“Copy Route 9,” came the expected reply.
Leaving Clifton, returning west to North Avenue, the traffic was beginning to dwindle. The rush (or so we call it) was now over. The street lights were beginning to replace the glow on the horizon and very few stops had anyone waiting. Coming once again to 28 Road, I detected the same two feet beneath the shelter. I pulled in to the stop. This time I pulled slowly in front of the enclosed bench and opened my doors. “Ride Miss?” I said, looking directly into her hollow eyes.
“No,” was the response as she motioned me onward.
Once again, I pulled away and continued on route. “Lost eyes,” I thought continuing more quickly down the avenue. “Maybe the party for whom she was waiting didn’t come.” I wondered. “Maybe she is stranded, or even lost.” There was definitely a vacant expression that caught my eye as I had peered through the open doors. I see so many hopeless faces when I open for passengers along North, so many shuffled from pillar to post by the very systems that were designed to help them. It is, therefore, not unusual to see vacant faces, persons lost to a future they once held bright, struggling from day to day simply to shelter and feed their families. This woman’s face was somehow different.
My last round through Clifton left me with two passengers going all the way to the downtown terminal. I watched for any sign of life at each stop as we passed by: Habitat, Maco, Big O Tires, Texas Road House. It was then I saw her. A quarter of a mile east of 28 Road our first encounter. She was walking toward me as though she had given up waiting and set out on foot. There was no place open along North that she could be staying were she homeless. I feared there would be few shelters for those eyes tonight. Only the open sidewalk and flashing neon signs.
I drove on by to complete my round and head home, her hollow gaze haunting me.

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